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“The Somali Compact:” A New Deal or an Indirect Rule?

By Faisal A. Roble


Hosted by top Diplomat Catharine Ashton, the European Union (EU) convened a 2-day conference (Sep. 15-16, 2013, Brussels) on Somalia.  Co-hosting the conference was President   Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud of the Federal Somali Government with an entourage larger than life.  Other participants also included Presidents Abdurrahman Faroole of Puntland and Ahmed Islam of Jubba state.  Somaliland defiantly refused to participate at the conference since it sees itself as a completely new and separate country from the rest of Somalia.  Yet, it submitted its portion of the Somali Compact (the Compact).

ndThe President of Somalia thence presented to the EU the result of what he called the Compact. What could have been a smooth conference was immediately tainted by an alleged un-presidential conduct by President Hassan in that he used his prerogative as the cohost to sabotage the airing of President Faroole’s speech.  The Compact itself is claims to satisfy the Busan principles.  But in reality it circumvents one of the most important requirements that would have strengthened the document – a robust public process in the adoption of the document.

In this essay, I will highlight the origins of the Busan New Deal, assess the Compact, and put forward preliminary bottom-up recommendations to reconstruct Somalia.

Origins of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction (Busan) Principles 

The Busan New Deal principles (the result of the Fourth High Level Forum on   Aid Effectiveness – which took place in Busan, Korea, November 29 to December 1, 2011) are meant to breathe live back into failed states like Somalia.  Somalia is one of the first countries to except all the conditions and strings attached to the Busan New Deal principles hence to be in a position to potentially utilize its huge financial pledge.  The Compact will serve as a tool to implement the Busan New Deal for Somalia.

As far back as the 1980s, the issue of soft states in African has been debated in political science literature and development theories.  After the demise of Robert McNamara’s failed approach to Africa’s development challenges (the Income Inequality Study backed by the World Bank in 1972), the Ford Foundation funded several studies to identify the role of non-state entities in providing key services to African citizens in the face of growing soft states (Goran Hyden, 1984).  By soft state we mean non-democratic governments whose operating budgets and military capabilities to maintain state machinery their depended on their dependency on the West.

Soon, a consensus emerged in the West that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Private Voluntary Organization (PVOs), and church groups were agreed on to be the right agents for filling the void created by African soft states.  This school of thought assumed a weak government with limited functions, aided and guided by a robust NGO and PVO technical knowhow thus doing major parts of the state domain, can survive within the cold war context. Several Schools in the US, including UCLA’s African Studies, started training church affiliated development officers under a USAID grant.

The formation of close relationship between national elites and Western NGOs/PVOs, however, created a powerful predatory state directly linked to and financed by the West.  Barre’s government, for instance, in the 1980s was a typical predatory case where the country’s Primary Health care (among other sectors) was run by USAID; arms were provided by USA, and hard cash was injected into the dictator’s institution through the International Monterey Fund (IMF) program called Structural Adjustment.

By the 1990s and 2000s, a host of African countries failed and proved unsustainable due to national/NGO corruptions of local and international resources.  In some instances, subsidiary companies siphoned massive resources from their host countries (Colin Leys).  By the early 1990s, following massive atrocities in several regions of the country and several clan-based movements, Somalia too reached the limit to aid-based sustenance and its soft state had nowhere else to go but to crumple (Michael Maren).

With the failure of the Somali state, along with several other countries, came out a new thinking centered on how to revive failed states:  The Busan New Deal conceptualizes a partnership between the failed state of Somalia and the West as the best option in rebuilding Somalia.  The problem with this model lies in the terminology “partnership;” it stipulates that partial ownership of Somalia belongs to its funding partners.  In practical terms, Somalia and its reconstruction is hereafter a joint venture between Villa Somalia and the EU, where a host of NGOs and PVOS would be empowered to co-manage Somalia and its reconstruction affairs.

What is less discussed with the Somali public is the long term pitfalls associated with this new partnership on the future of Somalia.  In simple terms, are Somalis signing a document that officially limits national sovereignty, as much as the 19th century colonial treaties and the Berlin Conference (Scramble for Africa) deprived Somalis of their liberty and their united country?

President Hassan of Somalia and his aides revel on the discussion of Post Conflict State Building without much attention paid to the political economy and the associated pitfalls with the Busan New Deal.  Implicitly or otherwise, Hassan’s government is systemically giving away the country’s sovereignty more than Barre’s soft state did in his waning years.

The President is presiding on what political economists call a rentier state.  At least one of the experts on Somalia, Alex Dee Waal, will not hesitate to consider Hassan’s Somalia a rentier state.  According to Dee Waal, a rentier state is a form of state “where the ruler enjoys and expends sufficient income from rents of which he is the principal economic actor.”  A substantial of said income comes from western Somalia’s benefactors.

By signing the Compact, this Horn of African country would be completely under the tutelage of EU: the EU already controls the coastline of Somalia; it has already started paying the salaries of the Somali army and its parliament, and it would soon be funding national development programs and the rebuilding of the country’s devastated institutions. The question remains to what extent does huge cash infusion by EU limit or undermine the sovereign state that Somalis once dreamed of.

Moving Somalia forward is challenging and has been further complicated by the role and degree of foreign countries’ involvement.  In many Somali circles, the debate is not whether Somalia needs the hand of the international community, but on what terms.  On that question, the Compact has surrendered Somalia to its highest bidders thus causing the likes of Adan Abdulla Osman and Dr. Abdul Rashid Sharmarke, et al leaders of the Somali Youth League and Somali National League of the 1940s and 1950s, roll up in their graves.

A recent tour of Somalia’s coastal line by President Hassan Sheikh on especial helicopter owned by EU shocked many Somalis to the extent to which their coastal lines are already overtaken by Western military establishments.   The President was flown in a highly sophisticated military helicopter to visit hangers and temporary military joints that have never been visited before by any Somali leader (ironically, Somalia does not own a single helicopter, and the President must have been saying “Gods must be crazy” as much as the villager in the Kalahari desert said the same thing upon finding an empty Coca-Cola bottle in the desert).

It was shocking to see the grip hand with which Western military colonels control Somalia’s sea and air space.  It was less comforting to see Somalia’s President looking like a child in a war theater (something that looked like a star war warship) being lectured at by European colonels on the protection of his own country.  Whether one calls this new arrangement a new colonialism or a new “indirect rule” akin to the 1890s rule in Anglo-Africa, it is certain Somalia is not in the hands of its people.

Therefor the pledge of 1.2 Billion Euro to move Somalia forward is not only a bonanza for corrupt elite that is less patriotic, but a potential vehicle to limit Somalia’s sovereignty.  It could also prove to be something that could also chart a disastrous roadmap for Somalia unless a careful balance between what the western countries want (security) and the Somalis’ desire for an independent nation is stricken.

Read the full article:The Somali compact

Faisal A. Roble

Email:[email protected]


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